Pianist Anthony Goldstone continues his survey of Russian piano literature for Divine Art in Russian Piano Music, Vol. 3: Reinhold Glière. Glière is best known outside of Russia for his "Russian Sailors Dance" from the ballet The Red Poppy; deeper listeners know him through his huge third symphony "Il'ya Murometz." Glière was one of the shining lights of the Soviet period, a composer born one year behind Rachmaninov who had never left, submerged fully in the language of late romanticism yet entirely tolerant of and maintaining an encouraging disposition toward emergent modernism among his students and younger contemporaries and finally a gracious, patient intermediary between composers in trouble and the Soviet bureaucracy. Ironically, for someone who fared so well in Russia, Glière appears not to himself have been Russian; his mother was Polish and his father Swiss and he was born in Kiev, which in 1875 belonged to the Ukraine. Nevertheless, as his ample catalog of more than 500 works demonstrates, Glière could be "more Russian than the Russians," and he sounds so here.
It might seem as there are nearly 500 works on here -- there are 40 tracks in all -- but actually it's only three -- Glière's 25 Préludes, Op. 30 (1907); 3 Mazurkas, Op. 29 (1906); and Esquisses, Op. 47 (1909). As is typical for Russian piano music in the first decade of the 20th century, the spirit of Chopin hovers never very far away in the first two sets, presumably the idea of having a set of 24 preludes would come from Chopin anyway and it appears Glière couldn't resist adding a 25th. There are short stretches that are reminiscent of early Scriabin, probably owing not so much to direct imitation so much as there was simply something in the air about altering and expanding Chopin's approach to harmony. The Mazurkas are pleasant but rather slight, whereas the Esquisses are far more mature and varied; here Glière is moving away from Chopin into an area that sounds more mature and typically Russian, utilizing skeletal harmonization, compound rhythms, and other devices. In spots one can also hear the heritage of the music he learned as a student in Germany -- from which he returned just prior to the Mazurkas -- and there are occasional lapses of taste that are more amusing than distracting, a languorous Wagnerian modulation taken a little too far over the top, for example.
Taking this in relatively small doses is strongly recommended; as not a single movement tops three and a half minutes and it is easy to lose one's way among so many short, unfamiliar pieces. Goldstone's playing is better than serviceable and one is moved to extend thanks to him for undertaking this series, exposing a greater audience to such important and altogether neglected corners of the repertoire as Glière's piano music.